Make the Struggle Real

“The struggle is real.” It’s an ironic expression we say when something minor doesn’t go our way. Just a few hours ago I realized, “Dang, I forgot I made that cup of coffee. Now it’s cold.”

Jaron, in his low, morning monotone, replied, “The struggle is real.”

It’s another way to make it seem like we’re self-aware and that we realize we’re dealing with “1st world problems.” I look at my day to day activities, and the lives of my kids, and I realize that life is too easy. We have everything we need. I’m not complaining. I’m glad, but I wonder if we’re missing a key aspect of the human experience.

We all recognize that hard work pays off. We have many sayings illustrating the idea, “No pain, no gain” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Failures birth many of our greatest achievements, but modern society is a place where fewer and fewer people fail. Even our large corporations are “too big to fail.” In fact, “Fail!” is another ironic slang word we use when someone does something dumb. We’ve co-opted and weakened the very meaning of the word. Like the Tim Hawkins’ joke, we say, “That’s the worst!” for the most trivial of problems.

Many of us don’t worry about where our next meal comes from, or where we’ll find shelter, or how we’ll stay warm. Thank God (and freedom) for that. That leaves us with a lack of real purpose. For thousands of years humanity existed on a survival instinct that drove us to find food and shelter. We had to fight others who wanted our resources. There was constant war and constant strife. We struggled or we died. Now, without that overwhelming need for the basic necessities, we’re left grasping for other things to fill the void. We spend time on leisure activities, indulging ourselves, but never growing as people. I’ve found that my job can become too easy, so even our “productive” time isn’t always fulfilling. We’re just going through the motions. We’re missing something.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy farming and beekeeping. The results of my work lead directly to a product that enhances my chances of survival. Plus, there are always failures. Hives die and pests kill off the plants. That’s normal. These losses make the wins even sweeter.

This lack of struggle also impacts our Spiritual lives. It is much tougher to recognize our need for God when it seems like we can provide for ourselves. We lean on ourselves. God is a kind Father figure, but we don’t need Him. We continually seek out ways to fill the free time that we have, and we find ourselves too busy to contemplate God in a deep and meaningful way. We are always doing something, never accomplishing anything, and our spirit suffers.

I want to have a sense of purpose and accomplishment, to grow as a person, and to grow spiritually. I want my actions to move me closer to a goal. I want to struggle against something and win. It’s not that I desire a return to the early days of humanity, scraping a meager, back-breaking existence out of the soil, but I do see some benefits in the struggle. So, I’ve started to artificially create goals and challenges to simulate that drive for survival. (As a tip, reaching town hall level 10 in Clash of Clans doesn’t count as a life goal.)

When I told Lianne about my thoughts she replied, “You’ve done a pretty good job of making the whole family struggle to survive over the past few months.” She was kidding, but paying off the mortgage is one obvious way that I’ve created some discipline in our lives. It has given us a goal as a family, and forced us to change our behavior to meet that goal. Every dollar has a purpose. Every hour I spend at work is moving me a little closer to a solid, tangible accomplishment.

I decided to volunteer, helping out backstage during Ava’s musical. For me, this is a big step. I’d much rather sit at home and watch sports or read. My introvert side kicked in before that first practice, and I dreaded it. I pushed through and went anyway. I was stage left, dressed in black, and clueless. It’s tough to learn something brand new. I wasn’t sure how I would fit in, or if I’d be useful. Now, three days later, I enjoy it, and I’m part of a new circle of relationships and shared experiences. I created a struggle for myself, and now I’m reaping the benefits.

We should do this for our kids too. Generate some challenges for them. It could be academic or athletic. It could be something as simple as NOT helping them when they procrastinate or forget something. Ava succeeded in nearly everything that she tried out for, until recently. Last year, we encouraged her to audition for Governor’s School and for a big, local musical. We figured the odds were long, but she willingly embraced the experience. She was disappointed when she didn’t get in to either, but she’s grown and used those setbacks as motivation.

So ask yourself, how can I challenge myself this week, this month, and this year? What goals can I set? How can I help my kids learn through failure?

Prune back some of the time spent on purposeless activities. Set aside time for meditation and contemplation. Then, strap on your boots, and go make the struggle real.

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